Fanfiction: A Cautionary Tale

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Title: Fanfiction: A Cautionary Tale
Creator: Sylvia Bond
Date(s): January 3, 2008
Medium: online
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Fanfiction: A Cautionary Tale is a 2008 essay by Sylvia Bond.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

Enter a world where your favorite characters continue their on-screen stories at the hands – and keyboards – of fans. Where the stories aren’t controlled by a studio or a publisher. Where anything can happen, even Captain Kirk and Spock falling deeply in love.

This is fanfiction and it’s lurking, waiting to change the way you look at fiction, and some of your favorite characters, forever. This is the true story of one woman’s descent into fanfiction and how it changed her.

I’d say well over 2,000 people [at a con in Denver likely 1991] [1], standing room only, but I mean, it was SPOCK, you see. Nimoy was a good speaker, too, holding that audience spellbound not only because of who he was, but how he commanded the room.

So anyway, some wisenheimer asked Mr. Nimoy a question along the following lines, “Do you know what K/S is and have you read any of it?” The crowd groaned as a body. My sister was mortified, and I was in the dark. Nimoy, the ultimate gentleman and crowd handler, answered the question along the following lines, “Yes, I do, and no I haven’t.” He then expanded on this, saying that he understood the impulse to build on a beloved TV show, and that he respected fans who wanted to make the show continue for themselves by writing fanfiction, even when the show was off the air. Then he followed this with a joke, saying that, of course Bill (Shatner) had read K/S and kept a stack under his bed. (This is paraphrased, okay? From over 10 years ago, all I can be sure of is that he acknowledged fanfiction, validated the fans passion to write it, and then made a joke at Shatner’s expense.)
My sister explained to me what K/S was (slash fanfiction about Kirk and Spock), what slash was (fanfiction where same-sex characters fall in love with each other), and what fanfiction was (stories about a fan’s favorite TV characters). I was mortified. I mean really! Who on earth would want to waste their time writing stories not only about TV characters, but TV characters having male-on-male sex? You mean James West and Artimus Gordon? My beloved Illya and Napoleon Solo? Kirk and SPOCK? I was shocked, horrified, and, terribly, terribly curious. Luckily the dealer’s room was open, and in we went to track down said fanfiction and slash. And we found it. There were tables and tables of it, all next to each other, and hip-deep in last minute shoppers, oglers, and the curious. I found a book of fan art, and flipped through it, blushing at all the naked nudity. I found a stack of zines, and flipped through them, and when I stepped away, my mouth was open in shock.
So I asked around, and while you might get some argument as to whether or not slash is worthy of reading, if you ask a fan why he or she reads fanfiction, you will get any number of answers. Like, fanfiction fills in the blanks when a show comes up short or goes off the air. Or, fanfiction builds on a universe that is just about perfect but not quite. And, fanfiction hits a fan’s buttons for the types of things a fan likes to read about. Fanfiction currently has no cachet, and is considered a red-necked cousin to its worthier relative, the novel, the screenplay, or even the TV show it is based upon. That latter bit quickly became my opinion too, back in 1992, and why I resisted a good six months before taking my first foray into fanfiction.
In the old days, before the Internet, you could get your fanfiction fix one of a couple of ways. You could go to a convention (usually sci-fi based), put a bag over your head, and search out the fanfiction table. For real, hard-core, sci-fi fans, fanfiction that wasn’t about your own original characters is a sin and a shame, and if they find out you are reading it, let alone writing it, they will not only mock you, they will drug you and beat you and you will end up in a dumpster, just like on C.S.I.
After “Vagabonds,” I was like Keith Richards desperate to get another hit. I worked like mad to buy, trade, copy, and track down any K/S fanfiction I could get my hands on. All my disposable income (and some of the not so disposable kind) went to this end. I read it all, no matter what the subject matter, hurt/comfort, slash, gen, everything. When it was good, it was as powerful as a nuclear meltdown that left traces of itself in my soul, like a lingering and delicious ache. But it didn’t matter to me when the story was bad, either, when it degenerated into a pair of talking heads that only had Kirk and Spock’s names. I was like one of those junkies in one of those grotty bathrooms with a spoonful of heroin that had been cut with who knows what. I was going to raise a vein with the ratty shoelace and inject whatever I could find directly into my bloodstream. Fanfiction was it and everything to me.
The moral of the story is that fanfiction changed me forever. I no longer accept books as being good, simply because some guy in a suit in an office decided it would make the New York Times Best Seller List. I no longer watch TV with a passive eye, nor allow sitcoms and dramatic crime stories to float over me with flat-out trust and sheeplike love. I watch my current favorite show and then I am up and about, internalizing what I’ve seen, and then looking for a way to express what I feel. I am reaching out to fanfic writers, talking story and theme with them, researching exactly how long it takes for a black eye to fade for my own story, and refusing above all to be spoon-fed anything. I’m rather like a willful child now, and I want stories with certain ideas, specific kinds of characters, and frankly, profiction is not up to the challenge. It hasn’t been since “Vagabonds,” and, I think, it never will be again.

References

  1. ^ This con was likely a Creation Con.